People who work and pay Social Security tax are entitled to receive Social Security retirement benefits. If you are the spouse or divorced spouse of a person who is entitled to receive these benefits, you are also entitled to receive retirement benefits based on your spouse or ex-spouse's work. To be able to receive these benefits, however, you must meet some requirements and rules set by the Social Security Administration.
Rules Regarding Marriage
As of 2011, if you are divorced and your ex-spouse has paid Social Security tax for at least 10 years, you might be entitled to receive retirement benefits based on your ex-spouse's work records. One of the rules concerning benefits is the duration of your marriage, however. You must have been married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 consecutive years; otherwise, you are not eligible to receive these benefits based on his work.
Your Marital Status
As of 2011, to be able to receive retirement benefits based on your ex-spouse's work, you must also be unmarried. If you have remarried but your second marriage has ended due to divorce, annulment or death, however, you may still qualify to receive these benefits based on your first spouse's work. If you are entitled to receive benefits from your last spouse's work, you must choose whichever is higher. You cannot receive benefits for both.
To receive these benefits as an ex-spouse, you must be 62 years of age or older. If you are disabled, you can receive these benefits at age 50. If you care for your and your ex-spouse's natural or legally adopted child who is younger than age 16 or disabled, you can receive these benefits at any age.
Rules Regarding Divorce
Generally, you cannot receive benefits until your ex-spouse files for benefits. However, if you have been divorced for more than two years, you can apply for these benefits as soon as you reach your age of eligibility.
Rules Regarding Your Own Benefits
You can only receive retirement benefits as an ex-spouse if your benefits based on your own work are equal to or lower than the benefits you can receive based on your ex-spouse's work. The Social Security Administration pays your own benefits first, but if the benefits based on your ex-spouse's record are higher, the Social Security Administration combines both benefits in such a way that you receive the highest benefits you are entitled to receive. However, as of 2011, you can choose to receive your ex-spouse benefits at full retirement age and delay your own benefits until you reach age 70. If you do so, you are eligible to receive a higher amount from your own benefits, since your benefits increase by a yearly rate until you reach age 70.